The number of San Mateo County residents being hospitalized due to COVID-19 spiked substantially in a matter of days but county officials say resources are still available to manage the health conditions.
“I don’t want people to be alarmed. We can take care of those we need to take care of right now,” County Manager Mike Callagy said.
As of this Monday, 128 residents were admitted to the hospitals across the county, with 126 confirmed, and 14 in the intensive care unit. That figure is nearly three times greater than the number of hospitalizations reported last Monday when 43 people were being treated.
That spike in hospitalizations comes as COVID-19 cases reach historic highs in the county. In the past 30 days, 17,335 cases were reported, not including cases detected using at-home antigen tests.
But Callagy noted far fewer people are becoming seriously ill than in the past. At this time last year, the county experienced its second-most infectious period when fewer cases were reported but more than 200 residents were regularly being hospitalized and hundreds died.
He credited the county’s high vaccination rate for preventing greater illness from occurring. More than 91% of county residents ages 5 and older have received at least one vaccine dose and about 92% of those individuals have completed their vaccination series.
The omicron variant, a far more contagious strain than previous versions of the virus, also appears to be causing more mild symptoms than other variants, Marc Meulman, the county’s director of Public Health, has said.
“So far, we’ve been able to manage. I expect we’ll be able to manage through this and we hope the peak is on the horizon here,” Callagy said, sharing hope cases also fall rapidly once that peak arrives in the coming weeks by estimates from health officials.
Unlike Sonoma County, which announced restrictions on large gatherings on Monday to mitigate the spread of the virus at this time, Callagy said officials are not considering additional restrictions.
Officials are open to additional resources from the state, Callagy said, noting staffing levels especially in hospitals and jail settings are top of mind. While people can minimize the likelihood of contracting the virus in work settings through masking and proper hygiene, he said community spread is affecting all industries.
County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant said hospitals have successfully managed the high volume of patients by employing traveling nurses and other temporary personnel, increasing shift hours and redirecting staff to critical areas.
“We are prioritizing focus on the support of the hospitals and 911 system to keep these vital services available, acknowledging the tremendous stamina and resilience this is requiring of the health care and first responder workforce,” Chief of Health Louise Rogers said in a statement.
All levels of government and the private sector have ramped up testing capacity to help detect the spread of the virus and more resources are expected to be deployed in the coming weeks, Callagy said.
The county expanded capacity at one San Mateo testing site by moving it from a hotel to the San Mateo County Event Center where 2,300 tests were administered over the weekend. Capacity or hours at a number of community testing sites will also be expanded this week and officials will begin distributing rapid tests in targeted areas after the tests arrive by Thursday, Callagy said.
He pointed to holiday gatherings and the return to work and school as to why the demand for testing skyrocketed the past few weeks and demand is anticipated to remain high, Laura Shih, COVID-19 program manager at San Mateo County Health, said in a statement.
“Testing availability is very limited right now, which I know is frustrating for everyone,” Shih said. “We made a significant expansion last week by opening the Virus Geeks site at the Event Center and are working to make more testing options available.”
Callagy suggested demand may wane soon and implored the public to continue testing regularly if experiencing symptoms and to practice other safety measures like masking, social distancing and remaining home when sick.
“We’re just saying that everybody still has to remain vigilant,” Callagy said. “We’re not shutting down, society is not shutting down but COVID is out there.
Visit the County Health website at smchealth.org/coronavirus for more information on vaccination and testing opportunities.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106